Bronc spirit and the smoky scent of barbecued meat permeated The University of Texas-Pan American's Bronc Madness Tailgate party Feb. 16 outside the UTPA Fieldhouse.
More than 1,000 students, alumni and friends of UT Pan American enjoyed generous helpings of fajitas, chicken, baked beans and other treats given out by tailgaters. Others joined stilt walkers in dancing in the parking lot to music while food preparers vied for top prizes in the event's cook-off competition.
Several student organizations participated in the tailgate, serving up barbecued meats, side dishes and snacks to event goers as well as enjoying the camaraderie on campus.
For David Elizondo and fellow members of the Student Veterans of America (SVA), it was also an opportunity for them to connect with the University and fellow student veterans.
"It brings the cohesiveness together," said Elizondo, a U.S. Air Force veteran. "A lot of veterans, even myself, we tend to be introverts, we really don't tend to socialize much, so this definitely brings us together. We get to know each other on a more personal basis."
The SVA teamed up with the Delta Zeta sorority to offer chicken, fajitas and other dishes to tailgate attendees. Tiffany Cruz, guard for Delta Zeta and Greek Council delegate for the sorority, said the tailgate was extra special for the sorority because it fell on the local chapter's 47th birthday.
"I think it (the tailgate) is really good because it increases student spirit and shows we're not just any ordinary university; we're spirited."
Cruz said she, as well as her fellow sorority sisters and the SVA members, were also looking forward to cheering on the Broncs Men's Basketball team as they play Houston Baptist University.
Members of the UTPA Student Government Association had many reasons to celebrate during the tailgate party. In addition to having so many people attend the event and show their support for UT Pan American, the student organization also won first place in the tailgate cook-off competition for its barbecued sirloin cut fajitas. SGA members called it beginner's luck.
"We never actually joined the contest before, we always just cooked for SGA students and we said we might as well do it this year," said SGA member Aaron Barreiro.
UT Pan American's very first Homecoming Queen Dr. Rina Blanca Garza Davis (BS '63), who landed the title in 1963, was wearing a sash announcing her title and the crown she won 50 years ago as she mingled with UTPA students, staff and community members at the tailgate. She and her husband Dr. Joe "Bole" Davis ('61 BS) travelled from Dallas to enjoy the festivities.
She said the tradition of homecoming queen came about because the students wanted to have the same traditions that other schools had at the time.
"We wanted the royalty, the look, the ribbon, everything," said Davis, now 72 years old.
Davis said being elected the school's first queen was the happiest day of her life. She went on to earn a master's and Ph.D. and had a long career in education, ending as the first Hispanic female associate superintendent in a Dallas school district. Although her high school counselor didn't see her as "college material," she enrolled in Pan American College and became inspired by the late Pan Am professor Dr. Amilda Thomas, who taught health and kinesiology at the school.
"She had the personality of the teacher I wanted to be. She encouraged and motivated me," said Davis, who majored in physical education. "She was the best thing that ever happened to me. The professors here, the way they taught us ... they knew we needed a lot of background skills. They really were preparing us for the next level, the master's, the doctorates. I thank Pan Am for what I accomplished in my professional life."
Tailgate goers also had the opportunity to meet members of the 1963 NAIA Championship team in men's basketball. Team members signed copies of the book "Bronc Ball: The History of College Basketball at Pan American," which includes the story of their path to the championship, written by UTPA Associate Professor of Communication Dr. Greg Selber. The book, published by UTPA Press, was available for sale at the tailgate. Selber also was signing copies of the book.
Sporting his 1963 NAIA championship ring, Marty Urand (BS '66) said he was recruited by then coach Sam Williams from Brooklyn, N.Y. He recalled the close friendship among the players, who were housed in a hotel, not a dorm, back then. A shooting guard on the team, he said he was required to regularly feed the basketball to Luke Jackson, who later became an Olympic gold medalist and a member of an NBA championship team.
Urand, who later coached with Sam Williams and had a long career in education, is the current vice-president of the UTPA Alumni Association's Houston Chapter and will soon begin work on a Ph.D. in educational leadership at UTPA. He said he's happy about Selber's book but is also writing his own book - an autobiography called "Not Recommended to College," referring to a note a counselor put on his high school transcript.
"I think I turned out pretty good and I owe that to Pan American for having higher expectations than she (the counselor) did. The Valley has done so many things for me. I can't say enough about it," he said.
Jackson said it was great to be back to the campus and have his jersey immortalized at a ceremony scheduled at halftime during the Homecoming men's basketball game.
"That's the one I played in. That's my number," he said.
Jackson, who lives in Beaumont, says he doesn't get back to the campus often and is impressed by its growth. He was also happy with the book, which pictures Jackson during a game on its cover.
"The book is a wonderful thing for those who might want to know about Bronc history. We are a part of Bronc history and there are a lot of things in that book I'm sure we don't know. So I'm really interested in reading it," he said.
Selber said he's happy about the great response to the book, which is 544 pages long and includes more than 300 photos, extensive stats on the games and personal narratives from prominent players. He said he originally planned to include area high school basketball but when he found the amount of information available and recalled how good they were in that era, he focused it just on Bronc basketball.
"We were 79-17 over three years - we were one of the best small college teams in the USA," he said.
Selber has high hopes for the future of athletics at the University, especially with the leadership of UTPA's President Robert S. Nelsen and its Athletic Director Chris King.
"The Valley loves sports. It's a matter of rekindling respect for the program. And days like this (at the tailgate), this is what you see at any college in the United States. I feel like the academics, the economics, the athletics - it's all coming together for this University. I'm just glad to be a tiny part of it," Selber said.
Following the tailgate, Broncs supporters filed into the UTPA Fieldhouse to watch the game and a presentation at half time honoring players of the 1963 NAIA Championship team and raising into the rafters Jackson's No. 54 jersey.
UTPA Homecoming 2013 activities conclude Feb. 17 with the 50+ Reunion brunch at the UTPA Ballroom for alumni who graduated in 1963 and before.
See more of the tailgate and basketball game in this photo gallery.